Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tasmania: Rental wrecks & chocolate highs

Can you guess where this photo was taken?
Nope. Can you believe it's Tasmania!? (I'm sure you already guessed by reading the title of this blog entry, duh)

Never in my life had I imagined I'd ever be in Tasmania! I was always interested in the mysterious island south of the Australian continent, imagining an island of rocks, full of animals that snorted and spun around on two legs. Then I read that there was a Cabury chocolate factory there---and added a chocolate oasis to my image of uninhabited piles of rocks and spinning animals.

The overnight ferry from Melbourne took 11 hours. Infamous for rocky vomit-inducing waters, I made sure to take a Dra-my-mine (Aussie for Dramamine) and conked out in my splendid 2 berth cabin. Just to give you an idea of how rocky it can get, there were 5 giant motion-sickness bags provided in the pocket of every seat.

I arrived to Tasmania fortunately refreshed and excited to experience the rocks. I went straight to the rental-car office, paid for my week reservation, stuck the key in the ignition of my little Daewoo, and within seconds backed the car straight into a pole. Right there in the rental car parking lot, right in front of the rental car agent. Ouch. But I had to swallow hard and forget...and left town as soon as possible hoping for a new and luckier start.

Leaving town I discovered green fields! Houses! Towns! Sheep! Cows! I was soon stuck in a herd of cattle crossing the road at their own will. Then there were many, many national parks, full of wildlife many distinctive only to Tasmania. Kangaroos would dash in front of the car at night, and you would have to screech your breaks to avoid a slow waddling echidna---an ant-eating porcupine-looking fellow. I avoiding driving at night because the amount of roadkill was phenominal, and when I did it was at a slow pace to observe all the nocturnal activity.

I was hoping to meet fellow travelers, make travelling friends, and chat with people here and there, but the tourist season doesn't start until Oct. I was alone almost everywhere. Every backpackers hotel gave me my own room of 6 to 8 empty bunk beds, and most campgrounds were empty. I met and chatted with friendly Tassie hikers on the paths, but didn't find many people in the campgrounds or hotels. One night I camped in a national park, alone, with only the "thump thump thump" of distant kangaroos hopping along in the forest. I lit a campfire, opened a bottle of wine, and found singing my only form of entertainment. The "roos" must have thought I was mad.

The famous Tasmanian Devil is actually really cute! It does not spin around like Looney Tunes projects, but it definately sounds like a devil when it growls, which he likes to do a lot. A little trivia, the Tassie Devil is a scavenger, being too slow to hunt, and he eats every part of the dead things he finds including fur and bones, ick. They are marsupials, having up to 15 babies---only 4 of which can survive as the female has only 4 nipples in her pouch. Wild devils are on the brink of mass extinction due to a contagious facial cancer that kills most by the age of 2 (usually live to be 6?). The devil parks are raising healthy devils in isolation as backup in case the entire population dies out. Scientists still can't figure out why the cancer occurs, as it is the only contagious cancer ever known to man.

On a brighter note...
The Cadbury factory was a dream come true, with free samples, and huge bags of out-of-specification chocolates sold at cost-price. I don't think I have ever eaten so much chocolate in my entire life.

It was sad to return my dented car and hop back onto the Spirit of Tasmania a week later, but I was pretty excited to join society again in Melbourne.

Melbourne, by the way, was cold. Everyday. A huge contrast to Sydney in many ways, but it seemed a cooler, more hip and international city. More my kind of place. And I met a few new salsa-loving friends, yippeee! Noriko-san was a wonderful host and having my own room in her comfy house was heaven, especially for getting over my cold. (I'd caught a cold in Sydney, blah!) Noriko doesn't eat meat, either, and we feasted on vegetarian food every night, it was bliss.

By the way, I discovered where my Tasmanian image of rocks came from. When I reached the Freycinet peninsula it was perfect deja vu---giant piles of rocks, just like I'd imagined! I must have seen it in a TV program or in National Geographic at some time in my life, amazing how the mind works.

I put pictures up, check them out if you have time!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is a really excellent city. I cannot help but open my Sydney entry with those simple words. It is just a really, really cool place. I arrived Tues. morning, dropped my stuff off at a backpackers hotel, and within an hour was exploring the town. It is supposedly winter but the sun is shining, the air is crisp and warm, and the sky is blue with fluffy clouds here and there. I was crossing the street to the Botanical Gardens when I heard, "Excuse me...", I look back and a young, quite handsome man (with a cast on his arm) says to me, "You are beautiful" and walks away. I could not help but like Sydney right away.

To resist being impartial, I would like to take this time to list four of the coolest things I have discovered about Sydney since...

1. The "Tiger"
A meat pot pie smothered in mashed potatoes, topped with mashed green peas, and then covered in a sauce (cheese, gravy, etc.) of your choice to boot. All for about US$4.50. In my case I had the "Veggie Tiger", and the pot pie alone would have been heavenly enough. Ooh la laaaa!

2. Cockatiels
You walk along, hear a deep throaty squawk above your head, and look up to see what it is. Could it be a giant crow? A seagull? A bird, a plane...Superman? No, folks, it is a giant white cockatiel--now please forgive me if I spell him wrong--with a yellow trill of feathers on his head. If you feed the birds in the park you are guaranteed a flock of them to join in with the pigeons. And some of them will say Hello to you in an Aussie accent, how cool is that?

3. Free Beer
I really don't know how they can do this, but bars around the backpackers hotels have a Happy Hour where they serve free pitchers of beer! Not just 1 pitcher, the other day our group got 7 or 8 pitchers!! If there was anytime to learn to drink beer, now would be that time. (and I still wont touch the stuff...)

4. Cadbury Chocolate
My favorite chocolate company....everywhere! You can buy Cadbury Eggs year round, along with a whole plethora of chocolate bars and snacks. Even McDonald's shakes and sundaes use Cadbury chocolates. It is Shannen's chocolate heaven. They only downfall is a candy bars cost a buck fifty around here, ouch!

These along with the laid back Australian attitude, it being safe to walk about at night and a huge mixture of foreigners all make it a colorful, exciting city.

Today I went to the Koala Park Sactuary and got to see all the native Australian animals, feed the kangaroos and pet a koala. Koalas sleep 18 hours a day, what a life! The park ranger woke one up for us to see and get pictures with, and he was a total grog-case. After I saw a man sheer a sheep, and "chatted" with the cockatiels ("Hello, hello, hello, goodbye, hello, goodbye").

So far, a cool, cool trip. Monday I go to Melbourne, and the week after that to Tasmania.
Miss you all!

See pics at side bar